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Interview: The Weepies – Bandmates, Parents, The Full Catastrophe
“She’ll be in, but if there’s howling she’s gonna be the designated driver.” This was Steve Tannen’s response when I asked him if Deb Talan – his wife/other half of The Weepies -would be joining us for a phone interview. Through a tag team match of answering my questions and tending to their children, I learned a bit about the history of The Weepies and their latest album Sirens…
Why did you chose the name The Weepies?
Steve: The first two names we came up with were The Full Catastrophe and The Weeds. In the movie Zorba the main character is asked, “I see you here but don’t you have a wife or children?” He responds “Wife, children, the full catastrophe.” (Laughs). At that point we weren’t married and didn’t have kids but we were laughing about it. We played a show together and told the host to bill us as Deb & Steve and he wouldn’t accept it. I can’t tell you how off the cuff and not thinking there would be any repercussions by telling him “we were The Weepies.”
How did The Weepies form?
Deb: We met through each other’s music. Steve was in New York and I was in Boston and we were doing a similar thing without knowing each other. We were each making our own “solo” album when we met but we jumped in on writing and working together. Our solo projects were finished but we became really collaborative and there was more music that didn’t make it on the “solo” albums so those songs became the first Weepies EP. We were touring by ourselves and then started touring together, singing on each other’s songs. It was so much more fun to be touring together that between our collaboration and the increasing desire to stay close to each other everything organically evolved into The Weepies and our life.
Are The Weepies going for a specific genre or targeting a specific audience, or does the name just fit the songs you write?
Deb: It just fits what songs we’re writing. As a songwriter you have a certain amount of control over what comes out and there’s an element you can’t control. We listen to and enjoy so many kinds of music that heavily influences us. There’s a bit of a spread in terms of what we write. We don’t aim for an audience, it’s more about writing songs and seeing what comes out.
With this new direction you’re almost turning into The Loudies…
Steve: (Laughs). I hope not!
Not in a heavy metal sense but tell us about about the massive full band sound that sparked on Be My Thrill and what we can expect on from this direction on Sirens?
Steve: If there’s been a change I think it’s the change that anybody goes through that they’re not aware of. You may see your friends from high school and they’ll look like different people but they don’t feel any different. We’re working almost the same way. We’re a little more comfortable criticizing each other now; we don’t usually couch it and red wine (Laughs).
Deb: The generative aspect of it feels very similar to the process that we always had. It’s also our first time living in a home, which reflects a new, grounded feeling.
Be My Thrill was literally a thrill and even though a new direction was clear, I love that you released the demo’s for Red, Red Rose and Hard To Please which sound like they could have been on earlier releases…
Deb: The origins of some songs on Sirens sound similar to those demos, too. Both Steve and I write things and hear other stuff going on. Things may take a different turn once we put new tracks on ourselves or get input from other awesome musicians when they’re tracking. We’re a little clearer on where we want things to go when we’re in the process.
Steve: With so many more musicians contributing to Sirens it’s gonna be a little bit of a bigger sound, not because we don’t like a folk sound but we happen to have Jerry Leonard on this record. Let him be Jerry Leonard and turn it up! It’s definitely a function of the musicality rather than trying to be anything different.
Tell us about the most special Weepies moment – whether it’s a hook from the albums or a live moment that was unforgettable. Right now mine is “oh, oh, oh, oh” from Never Let You Down…
Steve: (Laughs). That’s Deb Talan my friend. We did a lot of singing parts into phones and Skyping to add the horn sections (who were away from us in New Orleans) on this record. We were trying to figure out where that melody in Never Let You Down would go and we ended up using her voice as the instrument.
The best live moment was at the Hurricane Festival in Germany in 2006 because they were ready to hate us and we were ready to be hated. It was a heavy metal, heavily tattooed crowd. Tool was headlining and The Weepies were on the bill. We knew we couldn’t overpower them so we decided to be really quiet and opened with Nobody Knows Me At All and the entire audience started clapping along. It was a magical, incredible 40 minute set.
We’ve had great experiences at studios over the years. The best way to record is for the music to be a record of a moment. Sirens is the most bittersweet on the latest release because it’s got something that you can feel. It’s not entirely celebratory and Deb was very tired. I think you can hear it.
When that single came out I was listening to it as I was falling asleep, but I was conscious enough to realize that I was transported to the sky and my body was literally floating in the clouds…
Steve: That’s awesome. I recorded that song for her and had a similar feeling in the room when she was tracking. It’s a moment you can touch it. Deb always tells a story about a special connection to Bridge Over Troubled Water and I’ve had an outer body experience listening to Emotion by the Bee Gees. We’re aspiring to it and it’s nice to work with Deb who can get there more often than me.
Read our 5* Review of Sirens, here!
Questions by Scott J. Herman